Ricky Williams: America's Most Blunted

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Chris Jones puts one—or many—in the air and gets lifted with Ricky Williams. "The Runaway" appeared in Esquire back in December of 2004:

Ricky Williams is sitting in the sunshine on the land that might soon be his, and he's smiling, happy with imagination. He can see the papaya trees that he will plant, heavy with fruit, and the sugarcane that will grow fast as bamboo, and the bushels of almonds he'll raise and pick and roast almost entirely on love.

He can also see everything that brought him to this place in the year that's passed since he last ran for a crowd. First he went to Australia, to Byron Bay, to a canvas hut at a backpackers' commune with bedbugs in it and tidal pools behind it, steeped brown by the tea trees. After that he was off to Europe, following Lenny Kravitz on tour, which helped him remember his previous trip to Europe and the blissful week he spent on Sardinia. Next came Jamaica and a visit to Nine Miles, where Bob Marley was born and raised, which makes Nine Miles Ricky's Bethlehem. Then the Bahamas—he has this thing about islands—where his peace was broken by a letter that arrived from the National Football League, informing Ricky that he'd failed another drug test, his third, and that he'd be fined three quarters of a million dollars and forced to sit out the first four games of the season for smoking a joint. The letter was important, because it—along with the 1964 romantic comedy The Americanization of Emily—convinced him that, on a subsequent trip to Hawaii, he needed to call his coach, Dave Wannstedt, and tell him that he wouldn't be coming back to Miami. That made room in his life for Japan, where he wandered Tokyo at night, lost and cashless; and for his native southern California, where he loitered with friends in Orange County; and for Samoa, where he saw some boys playing with a ball on the beach, and because Ricky is led by instinct, he took the ball and began running with it until a 110-pound kid stood in front of him, and Ricky, because he is led by instinct, laid the kid out; and for Fiji, where he wasn't feeling the vibe but had that one moment of clarity, lying with his back against the sand, dreaming that he might go home and call a press conference, and when a reporter asked the first question, Ricky would answer, literally, "Blah blah blah," and he would give the same answer to the next question, and to the next, all to make the point that it didn't matter what he said, because people had made up their minds about him. And, finally, it made room for Australia once more, back to Byron Bay, back to the backpackers' commune, although not back to the canvas hut with the bedbugs in it, but instead to a tent in the middle of a forest of tents, where Ricky is sleeping for seven dollars a night between visits to the land that might soon be his.